deborah maris lader | Chicago printmakers COLLABORATIVE

Written by Miranda K. Metcalf | Published 2 Jan 2019

Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. Artwork by Kitikong Tilokwattanotai.

Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. Artwork by Kitikong Tilokwattanotai.

Deborah Maris Lader: founder and director of Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, musician, artist, mother, dog rescuer, and my personal hero. After nearly three decades running Chicago Printmakers she remains generous with her time and spirit, and boasts a spectacular personal aesthetic. I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at CPC in September of 2017 getting a personal tour of its purpose-built facilities - at the time only two years old. It’s a gorgeous space, full of light and good vibes, and capped off with a printmaker party deck on the roof and an ever-stocked beer fridge. For those of you who don’t know CPC or their spectacular 30K follower instagram account (get good at making those videos, kids), it is a community shop for professional printmakers and students, as well as a commercial gallery that features some of the best printmakers from around the world. Beyond the traditional class structure, CPC hosts workshops and open studios in addition to a handful of special events all aimed at supporting the printmakers in the region and fostering a community space for the general public to come in and be wowed by the process. An experience which hopefully inspires them to take a class or buy a print. Lader is the founder and director of CPC, she’s been doing it for 29 years, she owns her building, and she's’ not leaving until she’s carried out feet first.

Having recently began the process of launching a new print project myself, I can’t imagine how I would do it without pine|copper|lime’s Instagram, Facebook, emailing list, or shameless imbedded digital self promotion. How did anyone get the word out a decade before the internet? When Lader came to Chicago she didn’t know anyone besides this guy she was about to marry. Lader had been the printmaking chair at University of Indiana at Fort Wayne before her move and she had assumed that something similar could be found in her new city. So, because Lader has pluck to spare, she casually strolled into the printmaking department of University of Illinois, Chicago and said “Hi, you don’t know me but you’re Steven Campbell, so are you guys looking for teachers or what?” In hindsight she jokingly attributes the natural generosity of printmakers for her not getting kicked out the door on sight as a 20-something pipsqueak. I, however, would attribute it to the fact that she instantly reads as someone immensely capable, hardworking, and a heck of a good time. While these visits to printmaking departments at universities never produced a tenured track position offer, Lader was building her printmaking community in her newly adopted city, something which would serve CPC greatly in years to come.


While still looking for academic work, fate intervened when she saw an advertisement in the Chicago Artists’ Coalition newsletter, the paper kind that came in the mail, that the old Hard Press Editions Studio was for sale and the previous owner was letting it go only as a complete set, rather than piecemeal which surely would have garnered more money. Lader had savings from teaching as there’s not a lot to spend your money on in Fort Wayne, and she sunk it all into this printshop. She went into it with the philosophical attitude that, “The worst thing that will happen is no one will come and I’ll just make a bunch of prints.” This is where her time spent lurking around universities paided off. Once CPC got its sea legs, she reached out to the academics, and they in turn let their students know that there was finally a place that they could go print after graduating. At the time, there were no community print shops in Chicago. CPC was the right thing, Chicago needed it, and with the first funds coming in from the students, Lader turned right around and advertised in the Chicago Artist’s Coalition newsletter herself, and she was off and running. At the beginning, she taught all the classes herself, and slowly started to hire other people when she would meet someone who was an exquisitely talented teacher. Nearly three decades later, she is the full time director, manages the social media, has her own robust art practice, and plays regularly with her band - The Sons of the Never Wrong. Along the way she stayed married to that guy and raised her two boys in the studio. “I would just throw a pair of overalls on them and let them go clean the floor. ‘Okay go clean the floor, try not to eat anything,’” she remembers fondly.

However, before all this could come to be, CPC was missing something. CPC opened its doors in September of 1989 and the summer before had been a hard one, with lots of ups and downs, the worst of which was the loss of her grandmother who had always been her champion. “When the world would look at me as a dork, it was my grandmother who could come to rescue,” she says. One of the highlights though had been the time Lader spent at the Tamarind Institute working with Jeff Sippel on plate lithography, as litho had always been part and parcel to Lader’s practice. She attended Cornell for her undergrad and there she started out studying sculpture. She loved working with the metal, the wood, and the stone, but deeply missed drawing. When she found lithography - the combination of stone, drawing, and the layering of images - she knew she was home, and while the studio she purchased came with many things, it was lacking a litho press. At Tamarind she had seen the Takach Press factory and the way the individual bolts were lovingly hand machined. She had priced it out and knew it would cost $10,000 to purchase a press and get it to Chicago. It was a number far out of her budget, and was more than three times what she had paid for the whole shop. In the midst of mourning the loss of her grandmother, moving cities, starting her shop, and preparing to get married, Lader received a call from her father informing her that her grandmother had left her something in the will. With everything going on this had been the last thing on Lader’s mind, but when she found out it was the exact sum of $10,000 she knew what her grandmother was telling her to do. To this day the Takach, lovingly named “Edith” in tribute, is sitting in CPC and has taught hundreds of students and brought countless prints to life. Lader tells me this story looking at Edith watching one of her teachers Melody Vaughn demonstrate to a student. “I still think about her all the time,” Lader says with a laugh that has a back draft mixed with the grief that remains after all these years.

For the future, Lader doesn’t have any plans to expand the studio or do the classic move to the warehouse on the edge of town, because CPC is at its ideal size. She can manage every aspect of it herself and this way she can guarantee that as the studio gets older and as she gets older, it will remain the space where people go to if they want to do the very best printmaking available. That’s not to say that CPC has been without evolution. In the past ten years they have become more and more international as Lader has had the opportunity to travel and expand her network. “The first thing I do when I get to a new city is look up where the print shop is!” and she’s looking to expand this international focus into a more formalized residency program. CPC is also still working on having an online gallery on the website as well as looking to partner with more writers, poets, and other arts organizations in Chicago.

All of this raises the question for me, how does this woman do this all and have her creative practices? Surely she must have at least an extra 4 hours in the day. But given the opportunity between just doing her own work and running this printshop, she would chose the print shop every time, she just loves it: the curating, the students, and the community. Lader joined the band when her kids were 6 and 7, so there’s the band, the shop, her parenting, and her artwork. In my opinion, Lader has the perfect personality for this. She has a lot of energy, and does a lot with it. In a given day she finds time at the shop for doing social media, fixing a slab, talking to clients, and then working on her own art for a while. She’s not the kind of person who needs to dedicate a whole day to one thing, this agility is key: interview with Miranda in the morning, more scraping a copper plate, walk the dog home, and do more social media. At 57 she says that she and her husband are watching their friends take early retirement and realizing “What I’ve been doing my whole life is what people do when they retire. I make art and music and go for a bike ride and play with my dog.” Which is something I think we all can aspire to.

More information:

Instagram @chicagoprintmakers

Sons of the Never Wrong

Instagram @debmarislader